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Sweet and Savory

Some people prefer sweet foods and some prefer savory foods. Enjoying different types of food is not necessarily an indication of people’s personality differences; rather it’s biological, either hereditary or due to genetics, that their taste buds function differently thus leading to different food choices.

But even those with very distinct taste buds still need to have a variety of foods in order to maintain a balanced diet and nutritional intake, as well as in order to sustain their appreciation of their primary choices. Without variety, our bodies can become malnourished and hyper-dependant on that one thing. But including a variety of foods in our diets, even things we are not inclined to enjoy, allows us to keep things balanced.

An interesting exchange in the Midrash highlights this notion. But first, a brief introduction:

There are several mitzvahs in the Torah that require verbal proclamations, specifically when the Torah says that part of the mitzvah is to “remember,” which—in addition to it being something that must constantly be on our minds—means that something must be verbally recited. Among these mitzvahs are two seemingly contrasting mitzvahs. The first is Shabbat, with the verbal remembering being achieved through Kiddush at its onset and Havdalah at its conclusion.

The second mitzvah is to remember the attack by the nation of Amalek on the young Jewish nation, as the latter was leaving Egypt. So horrendous was this unprovoked attack, that not only is there a commandment in the Torah to wipe out any memory of Amalek, but we must also always “remember” what they did. This is achieved through a daily statement at the end of our morning prayers, as well as an annual public reading of the portion in Torah that describes this commandment.

When these commandments were given to the Jews, the Midrash teaches, some approached Moses and asked how these two seemingly disparate mitzvahs can be observed identically — by verbally “remembering.” His response was that they are compared to a cup of fine wine and a cup of vinegar. Both come from the same source, but one is tasty and the other is bitter. Similarly, Shabbat is remembered in order to sanctify it while Amalek is remembered in order to punish them.

Both mitzvahs come from the same source, from G-d Himself, hence the comparison to a “cup” which is indicative of a receptacle for G-d’s blessings to us. Both also start out the same way, similar to wine and vinegar both starting out as grapes and only changing in the production phase. And finally, both have a unique function depending on what it is being used for. Don’t use wine for a salad dressing and don’t serve vinegar at a social event.

So Moses tells the Jews that whether you’re a person who has a proclivity to positive mitzvahs, i.e. those mitzvahs that require proactive involvement, or you’re the type that gains more inspiration from avoiding forbidden activity, both need to include the other type of “remembering” in order to have a perfectly balanced relationship with G-d. Both types of mitzvahs come from G-d, and both need to be observed with equal commitment. Torah recognizes that we aren’t all the same and may have different interests, especially when it comes to religious observance. But we must also remember that since all mitzvahs come from Above and all mitzvahs are conduits for us to connect our souls to G-d, then even a mitzvah that isn’t necessarily our “taste” must be part of our daily Jewish life.

And consequently, G-d’s blessing to us is also not limited to just one type of mitzvah; the more mitzvahs we do the more blessings we will receive from Above, especially when we switch it up and include activities that aren’t necessarily natural for us.

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